The highs and lows of traveling to Heathrow
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
It has been a week of interesting developments for Heathrow Airport near London as proposals to tackle issues with, and improve the availability of, ground transport to and from the airport were announced.
First, the ongoing saga of bringing the new Crossrail underground line to the airport received a welcome boost after Terminal 5 — the busy hub of British Airways at the airport — had confirmation that it would be served by the trains, which will link passengers to central London.
Previously only Terminals 2, 3 and 4 were to share two stations on the new Crossrail "Elizabeth Line." Heathrow recently lost a High Court ruling over its plans to charge Transport for London for using the section of Crossrail tunnels which the airport paid to construct, but has agreed on an increased number of trains per hour visiting the airport.
Secondly, Sir Howard Davies, who chaired Britain's Airports Commission, recently put forward a proposal in the London Evening Standard newspaper to introduce a new congestion charge for anyone driving to or from the airport. The charge would help tackle Heathrow's high nitrogen dioxide levels, which already regularly breach EU limits, and would be a key target in approving the airport's new third runway going ahead.
Aimed at drastically reducing the number of vehicles visiting Heathrow and using the roads surrounding it, Davies suggest a charge of £10-15 per visit would be acceptable. It would potentially allow taxis, buses and local residents to receive an exemption.
Davies said that previously the idea of charging road users coming to Heathrow was seen as a controversial and extreme choice to make, "but I think now, the congestion charge is hardly controversial in London any more."
While the proposal is seen as potentially divisive politically, it is agreed on by Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary of the former Labour government, who thinks it imperative that millions more passengers are persuaded to use public transport to get to the airport.
Crossrail comes online next year (2019 for Terminal 5), which will increase underground service by up to 22 trains per hour. Until then, Heathrow's public transport links will remain crowded and off-putting for passengers.
Heathrow's operators will consider the proposals, but are keen to stress that the introduction of a new runway will not increase the number of road users, which account for a significant proportion of the harmful toxic air, as a result.
"We have been clear that even as the airport grows, the amount of airport-related traffic on the road will remain the same as today's levels," said Nigel Milton, Heathrow’s director of communications. "This is something we have been able to achieve in the past — over the last 20 years, passenger numbers have nearly doubled whilst airport-related traffic has remained static."
Naturally the addition of another Crossrail station at the airport is welcomed. However, work would be needed to address the number of freight vehicles visiting the airport daily by potentially opening consolidation centers away from the airport and pooling freight loads.
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